He and She Said:
Are you bored?
Gourmet burgers and dogs? Yawn.
Tasting menu at Stella? Been there, done that.
Chasing the latest pop-up? Please. That’s so 2011.
Well then, the newest NOLA dining trend is the mystery dinner, exclusive clubs promising prix fixe menus, restricted membership, and unusual dining locales announced at the last minute. Dinner Lab and Al Fresceaux both contain similar premises, putting you together with small groups of like-minded food adventurers for one-off meals prepared by a rotating cast of chefs in unexpected environments.
Oh boy, this could be good.
And so. in the spirit of this election season, we give you a debate, not focused on trivia like the economy or the future direction of this republic of ours, not burdened with Big Bird, horses and bayonets, or folders full of women, but instead filled with thoughtful discourse on this compelling issue of the day. Fair and balanced, as always.
Can you say trendy? What, you haven’t alienated enough normal people with your breathless soliloquies on the molecular delights at Root? You need to piss them off further by announcing your adventures in your secret food club? Really?
Last time I checked, there were more than 1000 restaurants in NOLA. Are you telling me you can’t find a single venue in the city that doesn’t produce lackadaisical ennui when you mention it to your hipster friends? We eat out as much as we can, and the options here still seem almost overwhelming. If you can’t find a restaurant to get excited about on a Friday night, that’s a you thing.
But, but, but what about the intriguing unusual venues, you say? Spare me. That’s a euphemism for cooking in a substandard environment. A quick quiz:
2 chefs: Chef 1 is in his kitchen, his home stadium as it were, where the mis en place is like clockwork every day. Chef 2 is in the back room of a converted warehouse where he’s never cooked, figuring it out as he goes. See where I’m going here? I say chef 1 is favored by two touchdowns in that contest.
Oh, but that Argentinean small-plate ensemble only happens one time. What if you miss it?
You just, like, eat something else. That’s what you do. Let’s get something straight here: food is NOT art. It’s not a Monet, it’s just a meal, and life goes on. Enjoy what you eat, but don’t make it a fetish.
So, have you actually, like, been to one of these events? No?
Well then, kind of an ass-hat move to slam what you’ve not taken the time to experience, don’t you think? A bit like those people who condemn a book without bothering to read it first. And you love those people don’t you?
How many times have we written that dining out is an experience, not just a meal? Isn’t that why we pay the premium? This is an opportunity to retain food as the central element, but change the nature of the experience, and how exactly is that a negative? If the diversity of the New Orleans food scene is a good thing, can it be bad to add even more to the mix?
And yes, food is not art, but so what? You’ve seen Monet in Paris, but you’ve also written about grilled sardines right off the boat in a sunny square in Essaouira. If you had to erase one of those experiences, which would you choose? Think about it. Never pass on the opportunity to make a unique new memory.
And don’t forget about what should be the most intriguing part of this concept: the people. What a great chance to get out of your normal social network. Everybody has a story, and few things open people up more than a meal around a common table. This is a ready-made opportunity to make new connections and learn new things, and one never knows where that can lead. If you recall, we have had numerous conversations on this topic: how interesting and enlightening our experience becomes each time we dine communally with strangers.
Finally, don’t turn yourself into a grumpy (and old) get-off-my-lawn-that’s-not-how-we-do-things-around-here traditionalist a-hole; it’s not very attractive.
Verdict: It’s in your hands, faithful constituents. Are we witnessing further proof of Mayan prophetic doom, a brave new world of New Orleans dining, or something in between? The floor is yours.